With 30 percent of the population in Ogden City proper, and 250 businesses in the greater metro area, Don Salazar said it was time.

Salazar joined city, community and business leaders Thursday at a reception officially launching the Ogden Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The chamber will serve Hispanic-owned businesses — and other companies that wish to target Hispanic customers — from northern Davis County to Brigham City.

Chamber officials said Thursday that the organization came together about a month ago because of the growth of the Hispanic population in the Ogden area and the rise in Latino businesses.

"In just one zip code, 84401 (which includes downtown Ogden), there are 149 Hispanic-owned businesses," said Salazar, the chamber's chairman and owner of CTI Construction in Riverdale. "In the greater metro area, there are 250. So the numbers themselves say that there needs to be a chamber."

The organization, which already includes 10 businesses and is recruiting more, "will serve to function as training for businesses, a resource center, a helpful tool for businesses to expand and succeed and begin," Salazar said. "In all phases, for new, existing and small businesses wanting to expand, we want to help and mentor them."

The chamber will be housed at the Ogden Business Information Center, 2444 Washington Blvd.

"It's perfect, really, because the center was created to assist citizens to launch their business plans," said Joe Reyna, deputy mayor of Ogden City and a member of the Hispanic chamber's board of directors. "The center is ready with the equipment, resources and people to help these businesses with everything from paperwork to financing."

Also, he said, "We want to have Latinos know that these services are not just for Caucasians."

The center provides loans from $5,000 to $90,000 through partnerships with local banks.

The Ogden Area chamber is affiliated with, but separate from, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which is based in Salt Lake City.

"We want to be separate, but united when it comes to assisting Latinos," Reyna said, indicating that the initial response from local businesses has been strong. "We've received 35 to 40 calls just in the last four days from people wanting to join. One was from a Clearfield software company that has 30 employees, which was great. Another was from a law firm. How would we know that these people were out there, without this?"

Art Pina, immediate past president of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the UHCC welcomes the formation of the Ogden Hispanic chamber.

"Because they are in a different city which has over 200 Hispanic businesses, we felt they needed their own autonomy," Pina said. "However, with an affiliation with us, our partnerships will enhance the power of the Hispanic businesses in networking, training, marketing and political.

"We are also looking forward to help in establishing other Hispanic chambers in the state."

However, if a town or city only has a few Hispanic businesses or Hispanic-serving businesses, he said the area might be best served by joining the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

According to Reyna, 30 percent of the population of Ogden is Hispanic. And Salazar said many of them dream of being entrepreneurs and business leaders.

"Hispanics are very hard-working people," he said. "Culturally, they've always been able to work. The next step now is that they need to work for themselves and develop businesses. Rather than being just a work force influence in the economy, we're becoming a business-owner influence."

Beyond serving the business community, Reyna and Salazar said they believe the Ogden Area Hispanic Chamber also will meet a larger need.

"Hispanic chambers are made up of businesspeople," Reyna said. "Businesspeople are usually the best resource to bridge a community.

"Especially in Utah, we have the saying that there is a division between east and west, where the east benchers don't go west. We believe that these chambers, made up of Hispanic business leaders, can be a vehicle to bridge those communities. We'll be able to work with city and county officials, and also non-Hispanic business leaders, to better integrate the community."

Integration and diversity are in the interests of all, Salazar added.

"We're stronger as a community, and as a business community, and as people in general when we embrace our differences," Salazar said. "I think that's why we're strong, because we're diverse. And when we're a diverse economy, that's adding to that strength even more."

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com